ALL THE EVER AFTERS by Danielle Teller

This book, even now as I think about it, was a kind of therapy for me because it reminded me of how much someone’s life story can meander and how different it may seem to those who observe it from the outside and those who experience it from the inside.

The stories we tell ourselves have great power.

ALL THE EVER AFTERS by Danielle Teller

Of all the fairy tales you grew up with, which one is your favorite? Where would Cinderella be?

To this day, “Little Mermaid” is number one for me. I would almost not include Cinderella among the top ten favorites. So how did I come to read “All The Ever Afters”?

Two books I read earlier this year, Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale and Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, are to blame. Both reminded me how much I love the stories I grew up with and how much I love discovering their expanded versions, how much I love meeting adult, more complex versions of characters I knew as a child.

It is especially exciting to read the second medal of a well-known story, to listen to what a character who was hated or completely secondary in a familiar version of the story has to say to me.

Because of the above books, I also read the beautiful “Circe” by Madeline Miller and the phenomenal “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, whose review I also have to write. The two of them are already on my list of the best books read this whole year.

I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t know about Cinderella and who didn’t love her and deeply sympathize with the orphan who is being bullied by her old, evil stepmother and her two ugly half-sisters. Moreover, I think I see in the behavior of many women today an unconscious reliance and search for solace in that fairy tale – if I am self-sacrificing, quiet and humble long enough and if I am content with crumbs, without complaining about kicking someone else from morning to night, someone will come who will reveal my beautiful face under the ashes and dirt, and my beautiful soul under my beautiful face, and then take me to a well-deserved, eternal happiness. And wealth.

“I no longer believe that people are born without virtue. It gets beaten out. Misfortune threshes our souls as a flail threshes wheat, and the lightest parts of ourselves are scattered to the wind.”

ALL THE EVER AFTERS by Danielle Teller

The problem is that we forget so easily that it is a fairy tale, and that we almost never, even in the context of a fairy tale, think about the fates of other characters. Which, in fact, cannot be expected from the reader. One of the features of a fairy tale is that the characters are more or less black and white; someone is either quite good (usually beautiful) or completely corrupt. The fairy tale doesn’t ask why this is so and how it is so, so neither does the reader ask.

In her book “All The Ever Afters”, Danielle Teller takes on an interesting and challenging task – to tell us the story of Cinderella through the eyes of her stepmother, Agnes.

Where was Agnes born, how did she grow up, who was she and what was she like before she became Cinderella’s stepmother? How did she even find herself in the situation of remarrying with two adult daughters?

Danielle Teller places the story of Cinderella in a broader story, in a web of destinies of all those characters who were completely secondary in the familiar fairy tale – what Cinderella’s father was like, what Cinderella’s sisters were like (except that they were much uglier than Ella, abbreviated from Elfilda, which is the “real” Cinderella’s name in this book), what Ella really was, and – the most interesting thing in this whole book – who and what was her grandmother, a good fairy?

When I went to Google to find out some information about the author herself, Danielle Teller, I was soon taken aback by the fact that her private life was more intriguing to me than the fairy tale she told. It became clear to me why she decided on Cinderella – the choice was conscious, planned, intentional.

You know little of the choices women must make.

ALL THE EVER AFTERS by Danielle Teller

Danielle Teller is an overachiever, and I say that with sincere admiration. Despite growing up in love with reading and fantasizing about writing, she got used to it and went to study medicine. She seems to have been less intimidated by medical training in the development of chronic lung disease, which she conducted through many prestigious universities (Brown, Yale, McGill, Harvard), and by her stay in intensive care units than taking a pen in her hand.

In 2013, she decided to leave everything and start writing. She and her then (and today’s husband) co-wrote a book about divorce and the misconceptions associated with divorce, called “Sacred Cows.”

“All The Ever Afters” is her first independent book, and the choice of a fairy tale to tell and a character from whose perspective to tell the story was conscious, deliberate. Namely, Danielle Teller has four children, but she did not give birth to all of them.

At one point in her life, she came into the role of a stepmother and began to understand all the complexity of that role, but also some expected scenario according to which that role must take place. She soon realized that in this scenario, stepmothers have little or no right to express their own experience, to testify about the challenges faced by two “adult” families merging into one.

Can a stepmother love and care for those children who come with a new spouse with equal care? How can she establish the authority needed for the constructive functioning of the family without at the same time turning out to be a vicious and heartless rascal? What additional compromises must she be willing to agree to, and which should she not consider in marriage to a partner with whom she has all biological children?

While she wrote about the misconceptions about divorce in Sacred Cows, she wanted to talk about the role of the stepmother in a similar way – about the prejudices and truths about this role, about the challenges and limitations of this role.

She also wanted to emphasize that in any story, not just one person has their “ever after”; when the story ends, it doesn’t end when the most beautiful character gets its perfect “ever after”. What do the conversations of the stories of some other characters look like?

Although “All The Ever Afters” is at its core a retold and expanded fairy tale about Cinderella, it reads like an excellent historical novel.

I know you may not expect much from the book because you think the story is familiar to you – how original is it at all, when you are obliged to adhere to the main narrative sketch of the story?

“It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while I believe that to be true, it cannot be denied that society has a stron opinions about what is beautiful and what is not.”

ALL THE EVER AFTERS by Danielle Teller

You will be surprised by Danielle Teller, just as she surprised me. I was really deeply moved in a number of places, truly amazed, but I also found myself frozen on the border between “surprised” and “disgusted” several times.

I don’t think you’ll ever guess which character Danielle Teller will surprise you with the most… Maybe after reading you will thoroughly redistribute your favorite and most hated characters from this fairy tale.

When I closed the book, there was simply no choice but to go and stick Goodreads ’high five on it. I like everything the author has done with female characters, especially the way she has addressed the eternally avoided themes of physical attractiveness and unattractiveness and the fates that await those who are beautiful or not conventionally beautiful.

I look forward to each new author’s book; moreover, I can’t wait for them. Until then, I will have to read “Sacred Cows” as well; maybe I like the idea of divorce so much that I want to try it first hand. (Its a joke people) #queenofinappropriatecomments 😉

Thanks for reading!

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